The Chiefs are not the favorite to win the AFC West, and that's surprising. But it's only because their floor and ceiling have been drastically altered with the switch from Alex Smith to Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.
Such a huge shift is both good and bad: the Chiefs are not going to be some steady team next year, the way they have been in the past. But they are such a tantalizing team in terms of how good they can be now. Mahomes oozes upside, and he has Andy Reid grooming him. He can move quickly and throw lasers down the field. If he grows up quickly, the Chiefs are going to wreck some people.
Along the way, though, there are bound to be speed bumps. Fortunately there are weapons here a plenty for Reid to give Mahomes usage of. Sammy Watkins got a lot of money but isn't getting a lot of attention -- in Reid's scheme he could be lethal on short passes and as a field stretcher. Travis Kelce is a superstar tight end already, and Tyreek Hill's Twitter handle is @Cheetah, which just about sums it up.
But, boy will this group be tested out of the gate (see: below).
No one is really talking about it, but the Chiefs refiguring their defense may actually be the key to the season. There should be plenty of new and/or returning faces to this unit, with Reggie Ragland added via trade and Anthony Hutchins plucked via free agency. Eric Berry returns from injury; people slept on how important he was to the defense last year after he went down in Week 1. They also, somehow, picked up Kendall Fuller in the Alex Smith trade, while shipping Marcus Peters out of town to the Rams. David Amerson and Xavier Williams fill the log of free agent additions as well.
Justin Houston and Dee Ford are still around to provide the pass rush -- it's a different looking defense but one that could be the best unit Bob Sutton's had in the last five years if everything goes right.
Vegas is still confused by the Chiefs a bit,.
Desperately wish you had a 30-minutes-or-so, daily NFL podcast in your podcast app every morning by 6 a.m.? Put some Pick Six Podcast in your life and join Will Brinson as he breaks down the latest news and notes from around the league, as well as the . It's a daily dose of football to get you right for that commute or gym trip. Subscribe: via iTunes | via Stitcher | via TuneIn | via Google Play
Early Schedule Analysis
The Chiefs offense will be tested out of the gate, getting the Chargers and Steelers on the road to open up, before playing the 49ers at home in Week 3. The Broncos in Denver follows that, with the Jaguars in Kansas City and the Patriots in New England afterward. WHEW. The Chiefs then play the Bengals at home in Week 7 and the Broncos at home in Week 8 to get them halfway through their schedule. If they're above .500 they are chasing the top seed in the AFC at that point. Things lighten up a bit with the Browns (road), Cardinals (home) and Rams (road) before their Week 12 bye. Kansas City then closes out with the Raiders (road) in Week 13 and three of four at home. They get the Ravens, Chargers and Oakland again at home, with the Seahawks on the road in Week 16. This is as first place as a schedule gets.
Why They'll Go Over
If Mahomes is the real deal they're going to blitz this over, even with that brutal schedule. They have enough firepower on offense where they'll be able to hang with anyone and put up points on just about anyone if he plays like a top-tier quarterback. It's going to be a tough transition, though, because of the schedule. The Chargers/Steelers/49ers/Broncos/Jaguars/Patriots is a rough introduction to life as a starting quarterback. Kareem Hunt also needs to put up league-leading rushing stats again and the Watkins acquisition needs to work out for the Chiefs better than it did the Rams the year before. A full season of Kelce is paramount as a security blanket and No. 1 pass catcher. The defense better show up too -- the transition to a largely new group of personnel can be tough, especially when we're talking linebackers, with the limited amount of practice time. The Chiefs can't stumble out of the gate on either side of the ball if they want to stay competitive in the AFC.
Why They'll Go Under
Mahomes isn't quite ready for prime time, or at least not ready to shred tough defenses. The Chiefs struggle out to something like 2-4 and the pressure starts to get cranked up (doubly so if Smith is playing well for Washington and the Redskins are winning), with people wondering if Reid has lost his touch. The defense is faster but it's not able to slow people down and the Chiefs are getting barreled over by bigger opponents in the running game, giving up 200 yards to Leonard Fournette in Week 5. Even then a course correction should be coming because of the schedule, but it's possible at that point the damage is done. Hunt could regress from last year's breakout campaign, especially after slowing down substantially in the middle portion of the Chiefs stretch.
The schedule is intimidating but I'm not scared. The Chiefs have massive upside with Mahomes under center and can be as dangerous as anyone in the AFC this year. I think Watkins is going to be better than people think and Hunt could actually be better this year. The defense is going to sneak up on some people. If you take this over, you better be prepared to weather the storm in the first six weeks, but even 2-4 won't stop them from potentially winning nine games.
VERDICT: OVER (8.5)